French Revolution In Offing For NCAA Monarchy?

On Feb. 1, I was told by a prominent network television executive that the NCAA had approached CBS, ESPN and other network television outlets about expanding the NCAA basketball tournament to 96 teams. The idea, if executed, would have an enormous impact on NCAA members schools that supply the teams for the billion-dollar enterprise.

NCAA Facing French Revolution

After I broke the news, I was amazed to find out that the Athletic Director who runs the most profitable university athletic department in the NCAA, DeLoss Dodds at the University of Texas, had no idea that the NCAA was considering expanding the men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams.

The day after I published my piece, USA TODAY reported that Dodds said of March Madness expansion:

“If they’re having discussions about those things, they should be more public and more open so people can weigh in on what the issues are and what the benefits are and what the downsides are.

“I don’t know their process, but their process seems to be pretty hidden.”

Probably the most powerful man in collegiate athletics outside of Indianapolis, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, voiced similar concerns to SportingNews.com on Feb. 2:

“I’m not looking to see the basketball season made less relevant because we do an expansion without knowing a lot about this.”

On March 30 Delany, who chaired the committee that oversaw the NCAA’s expansion to a 64-team men’s NCAA basketball tournament, told USA Today that an expansion to 96 teams was “probable.”

Last week the NCAA announced it would not be expanding to 96 teams - for now.

So perhaps the two most powerful men in collegiate athletics not under the employ of the NCAA or a television network, Jim Delany and DeLoss Dodds, were completely out of the loop on the NCAA’s 96-team expansion plan.

NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen, who oversees the men’s basketball tournament, gives a clue to USA Today why Dodds and Delany weren’t in the loop:

Countering those concerns, Shaheen says the late NCAA President Myles Brand kept university presidents on NCAA boards informed “for several years” of the association’s study of the issue, including the potential for tournament expansion.

Translation: The 18 university presidents on the NCAA Board of Directors knew what was going on, along with Shaheen, his NCAA interoffice associates and network TV execs. That’s it. And those individuals have the power to do whatever they want, including expanding the tournament to 96 teams without the consultation of anyone.

So Dodds and Delany, who are among those most responsible for creating the revenue that justifies the very existence of the NCAA, have absolutely no say on an issue that could have an enormous financial impact on all NCAA schools.

Now, think about who the central figures are in those super conference talks you’ve been hearing about.

Dodds and Delany.

Texas AD Dodds in that same Feb. 2 USA Today piece about 96-team March Madness expansion:

“The top 20 or 30 teams in the country probably carry that TV package,” says Texas’ Dodds. “So you add another 30 on the bottom and, if you’re going to split the revenue equally, is that right or fair?”

As noted by Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com today, what Dodds and Delany are pondering, among many others, is setting up super conferences that would include only the top revenue-generating sports schools. The schools “on the bottom” (Dodds words) would be thrown off the revenue-sharing gravy train and possibly precluded from competing against the super conference schools.

As noted by Doyel today:

Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins, in a comment to the Topeka Capital-Journal last week: “At some time, the major conferences are going to have their own quasi-NCAA. They’re going to do their own thing. It’s gonna happen. I hear a lot of college presidents talking about those kinds of things.”

More:

That idea was hit on next by The New York Times, which quoted former Syracuse AD Jake Crouthamel — who steered the Orange through the ACC’s clumsy expansion of 2004 — as saying the four super-conferences would eventually leave the NCAA and form their own college division.

Eventually, Crouthamel said he saw the Big Ten, the ACC, the SEC and the Pac-10 forming four 16-team super-conferences and leaving the umbrella of the NCAA. He said those leagues would form their own basketball tournament to rival the NCAA tournament.

“If you look at the history of what’s been going on for the last decade,” Crouthamel said, “I think it’s leading in that direction.”

That’s speculation that’s rightly based on the organizational fracture between the university presidents of the non-sports-revenue-generating schools, who make up the majority of seats on the all-powerful NCAA Board of Directors, versus the financial interests of the sports power schools, affluent conference commissioners and television networks.

In other words, the university presidents have the keys to the castle but outside the walls, they’re outnumbered and outgunned.

If the super conferences were to happen, the resulting exclusive, members-only competitive framework would make the BCS resemble a Karl Marx manifesto. That sort of structure could never exist within the NCAA because of obvious antitrust violations, hence a new organization would be required to oversee those leagues.

Now, I’m not so sure the destruction of the NCAA for the casual sports fan would be such a bad idea.  It could mean the demise of the BCS, a rebirth of a more tightly-contested postseason basketball tournament and players finally get paid for their services.

But do I think a breakup of NCAA membership is ultimately a possibility?

No.

What will happen instead is the breakup of the makeup of the NCAA Board of Directors. Instead of only university presidents, parties specifically representing competitive athletic interests will be provided seats to mitigate the conflict between revenue-generating sports schools and non-rev schools.

The clearest evidence that is needed, besides the breakaway super conference talk, is the ridiculous press release the NCAA sent out after its new broadcast rights deal with CBS and Turner for March Madness. Excerpt:

Late Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase the tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 championship. The Board will review the recommendation at its April 29 meeting.

What that statement represents is college basketball’s competitive interests within the NCAA firing a warning shot at the university president-led Board of Directors in an attempt to protest (and prevent) the possible expansion of the tournament to 96 teams. It’s also college basketball’s competitive interests within the NCAA telling the public that it never had anything to do with the 96-team expansion talk.

The Board of Directors, which was first responsible for bringing up 96-team expansion, will have the final call on the size of the field at a meeting on April 29 in Indianapolis.

Clearly, the NCAA is a dysfunctional organization rife with infighting.

It’s likely that the Board of Directors, along with other non-sports-revenue-generating university presidents and Indy-centric NCAA executives already know that.

If they don’t, and refuse to budge on board seats, soon they may not have a body to govern.